Our Musings Salon for February was on the topic of Intimacy v Internet, using a rambling essay I wrote recently as the jumping off point.
As always, it was absolutely delightful to have such clever people take part in a conversation about something that very much impacts our daily lives. A big thanks to Cameron Elliott, Sally Hill, Julia Sharwood and Rachel Service for their insights and their wonderful company. I feel so very lucky to get to spend such quality time with these wonderful humans:
A few notes from our discussion:
We spent a lot of time discussing how our relationship with our digital selves is evolving in an interesting way. In the early days of the social web, the people we connected with felt very authentic, but are becoming discernibly more curated and contrived. The more channels for "personal branding" and monetising personalities and influence emerge with digital media, the harder it is to figure out what is real and what isn't. The more corporatised and money making it becomes, the harder it is to find authentic connections and individuals amongst the noise.
Sally mentioned, "it's now second nature to us to 'manage' our profile / brand / image online. Those who don't seem to be doing so are actually the real pros." By that logic, perhaps it is actually people who are not concerned about accepted social media etiquette, often late adopters who haven't figured out the nuances, or who just have no interest in observing the idiosyncrasies of social media use. She recommended this piece on why your mum's Facebook use is likely to be more authentic than yours. As Sal said, "perhaps they're not so great at being humans on the internet but great at being humans". Maybe we can all learn a lesson from our mums in this regard.
While it wasn't what I was specifically hoping to address in my essay, we did talk a lot about connection, and whether true connection is possible digitally when the idea of authenticity is so problematic. Since we discussed it, I've noticed a rash of articles published on this very subject, many of which I've included in the further reading below.
Despite all the risks, we did all acknowledge the positive impact being digitally connected has had on our lives. To use Julia's words: "The good old days could be cruel and itchy sweater. Social media is more egalitarian. You can put your passion into making vines, or writing about culture, or taking beautiful party pictures and you'll find your tribe. They'll celebrate you for the things you love."
At the end of the day though, what really matters is that your nearest and dearest know you - the real you. And does digital help this? We didn't necessarily think so. As Sally said, "Although we had a lengthy discussion about authenticity, I think the outcome was that to be truly authentic we had to be disengaged from social media and not publishing or 'publicising' anything about ourselves."
All of us acknowledged that for the most part, that digital communities are only as good as the opportunities it presents to connect to connect with people in person. So if in doubt, remember to sit down and chat to people face to face - that way you can skip the life airbrushing and be sure you know exactly who you'e talking to.
Further reading / listening:
- 1000pluscoffees.tumblr.com - a project by a clever Melbourne-based digital type who is taking on the challenge of having a coffee with everyone of his Facebook friends to see if they're actually people he'd like to hang out with in real life, and documenting it all for our benefit. It makes for fascinating reading. I heard him make a comment in an interview about the fact that we're the first generation who is expected to keep in touch with everyone we ever meet, and I haven't been able to forget it. What a ridiculous thing to be asking us to do, when you think about it.
- The Loneliness Epidemic - we're more connected than ever, but feeling more alone (Rebecca Harris for The Atlantic)
- The Shut-In Economy - In the new world of on-demand everything, you’re either pampered, isolated royalty — or you’re a 21st century servant. (Lauren Smiley for Matter)
- The Future of Loneliness - As we moved our lives online, the internet promised an end to isolation. But can we find real intimacy amid shifting identities and permanent surveillance? (Olivia Laing for The Guardian)
- Pop Rocket - A rambling chat about Social media (it kicks in at about 20 minutes). Digital detoxing, digital behaviour and the pressure to be online.
- This is the new loneliness (Jamie Varon for Thought Catalog)